Most people look at productivity as something they constantly need to win at. And here at Intelligent Change, we want to help you create productive routines and give you the tools and the resources that empower you to achieve more and build the life that you dream about. After all, we’ve given you articles such as the 10 Productivity Hacks and helped you to be more productive with time blocking
However, this time, we want to do something different. Today, we want to present you with a different point of view, one that advocates to stop focusing on productivity all the time and commit time to you instead.
Self-help and self-development resources constantly talk about a myriad of ways to increase your productivity. During the last century, there was the prevalent idea that, with the upcoming development of new technologies, humans would be able to work less and enjoy their lives more. This idea turned out to be wrong, but why?
While this is a fairly complex question, one aspect of it is that while smart devices and the instant connection with the world gave us more efficiency, more knowledge, more time, simply more of everything, they also brought along the changes (and challenges) that not one of us could have foreseen–and one of them is social media.
Scroll through your social media feeds and take a look at all those “friends” or “connections” you have, being busy switching jobs, starting new businesses, completing home projects, exercising, travelling… When we take in all these visual and social stimuli, most of us end up asking ourselves: “When will I be this productive”?
The scale at which we’re bombarded with these tidbits from other people’s lives (which is a highly curated version of their lives, mind you) gives us a skewed perspective on how much productivity is enough productivity. This further fuels our desire to do better, do more, and be more productive, and it can often blow this need out of proportion. In this case, what often ends up happening is that we start doing everything to not feel ashamed that we’re not productive enough and avoid the feelings of guilt caused by unticked items on our productivity list.
We wake up each day and try to do our best to perform, but we can rarely live up to our own expectations. When we fail to reach our inflated productivity goals, that often leaves many of us feeling tired, empty, and like we’re not good enough. It also takes away our joy of living.
A hundred years ago, people used to demonstrate their status and wellbeing by enjoying a lot of leisure time, but it seems that those days are behind us. Now we strongly value work, productivity, and being busy. When we’re not busy, we not only fear that we’ll lose our credibility, but we often also feel like we’re missing out on life or like we’re not living it to the fullest.
But why do we do this? How have we come to value productivity so highly, that for some of us it has turned into a tyranny?
Addicted to Busy
Any manual laborer knows that “there is always more work”. As soon as you're done with one (repetitive) task, what’s waiting for you is more of the same. The faster you work, the more work you have. It's as simple as that. For those who own businesses, they know very well that this is the definition of productivity: produce more within the same timeframe and use the same amount of resources.
However, it seems like the transition that should happen in how we perceive work is still ongoing. Many of us still use the old frameworks for thinking about productivity, when it’s more than necessary to re-think productivity and multiply the quality over quantity of our work and life satisfaction.
Frustrated with our “unproductivity”, we fill up our to-do lists to the brim and desperately try to tick off all of the items. It becomes a game of adrenaline and dopamine as we slowly become addicted to being busy.
This can make us feel single-minded–we become obsessed with getting as much done as humanly possible. However, this kind of attitude has some unpleasant consequences. This becomes a reason to start associating ourselves with what we do for a living, constantly comparing ourselves to others, and finding excuses to put our self-care needs aside.
In the desire to maintain a positive self-image, we fall victim to the “completion bias”, and feed our brain with the completion of smaller, usually marginally important tasks, whereas big and more substantial ones keep being pushed to the bottom of the list.
This blurs the lines between private life and professional life, as we struggle to fill out every waking moment with productive activities. It also harms our attention span and the ability to focus, as we constantly switch between short-lasting activities.
A study published in the Human-Computer Interaction magazine discovered that people switch between different apps every 20 seconds on average, and don’t spend more than 20 minutes in an uninterrupted single activity.
How to Stop Being Productive all the Time and Fight Productivity Shame
If what we outlined above rang some bells in your head, perhaps it’s time to do something about it. If you often feel like no matter how much you work, it’s never enough, or if you’re feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, and on the verge of burnout, check out our 3 tips designed to help you feel better and set you free from productivity shame.
1. Change the Narrative About Productivity
One of the main reasons why we fall into the trap of productivity shame is that we have the wrong idea of what productivity is and should look like. Although we’re trained to believe that we’re valued and needed only if we’re productive, and regardless of what we do to keep ourselves busy, we are not product-pumping factories. Answering meaningless emails for 2 hours doesn’t make us better workers–it just keeps us chronically tired and miserable.
The crucial narrative switch is to stop defining productivity as “getting more done using less or the same resources”, but as getting meaningful things done consistently.
If you get pulled into the hustling whirlpool again, take a step back to ask yourself: Is it the right thing for me to be doing?
To help you achieve that, we strongly recommend using one particular feature of our Five Minute Journal: Self Care app–the mood tracker. The best metrics of how well you’re doing is you. And the mood tracker can help you identify your mental and emotional states over a longer period.
A mood tracker is a helpful tool for changing the narrative about productivity because it gives you a thorough insight into how you feel during the day while completing different kinds of tasks. Usually, we reflect on the sum of our day, and our reflection can be swayed by how our day started or ended, as that’s what lingers in our memory the longest.
With the mood tracker, you’ll get a more precise measure of how your day went and, over time, you might discover how to change your daily routines and schedules to feel more relaxed, but still productive and efficient.
2. Change Your Mindset and Focus on You
Putting an equal sign between your personality and the number of completed tasks from your to-do list is a sign of a fixed mindset. There’s nothing empowering, self-growing, self-transcending, or challenging in this kind of attitude.
As you change the narrative about productivity, you need to change the narrative about you, too. What do you want to achieve? What is your purpose, sense of meaning? Why are you doing the work that you’re doing? Are you learning, growing, developing as a person? Are you being challenged?
These are all important things to address on your way to cultivating a growth mindset.
By focusing on your personal growth, flourishing and transformation, you’ll notice how your value system changes, and things that used to be important, like completing as many items from your to-do list as possible, are becoming quite peripheral. Instead, you begin to prioritize yourself first by balancing your mental and physical wellbeing and taking time for self-care.
3. Use Smart Tools to Support Yourself
Although our modern lifestyle is what pushes us into this productivity obsession, it also offers us many support systems we can use to improve our habits and behavior.
The power of gratitude practice is one of them–it’s healing, life-changing and transformational. We’ve already mentioned our digital Five Minute Journal’s mood tracker, and, if you’ve already downloaded the app and switched to the premium plan, we recommend using all of its thoughtful features–from setting yourself inspirational reminders to curating your own gratitude journal prompts and preserving beautiful moments by adding photos and videos to your entries.
We also recommend using The Productivity Planner, as it guides you to better understand how productivity works, helps you avoid getting stuck in meaningless activities, and teaches how to prioritize and actually do the important work. The Productivity Planner (and its tear-out alternative Productivity Sheets) is not just another tool for boosting your productivity in the traditional sense, but a new way to be more productive mindfully.
Wrapping It Up
In times when everyone around is trying to do one thing, it takes great courage to do the complete opposite. We’re not saying you shouldn’t be productive, but we are saying that your free time, mental and physical wellbeing are more important.
This is why we all need to redefine success and rethink our perception of productivity, so that we can be kinder to ourselves and use some downtime when we truly need it in order to feel at peace with ourselves and enjoy life.
Find a way to prioritize emotional health, and take time to discover what helps you relieve stress, soothe your mind and recharge your energy. Put self-care in your to-do list, always, because it is more important than your job. Your mental well-being is the priority, it is the new metric of success, it is the new cool.